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Key questions and answers about your wages and possible problems

Published 05 December 2022

The wages on offer will probably be the decisive factor in any decision you make to accept a job – but how would you deal with a situation in which you do not get paid as expected?

When you start work, your employer should tell you how much you will be paid and how often [1 cited 5.12.22] . They should also tell you

      -The day or date you will be paid, for example each Friday or the last day of the month.

      -How you will be paid, for example cash, cheque or bank transfer.

 So, you should be clear on the renumeration you will receive for the duties you perform.

But as with any type of agreement, including the wages you will be paid, there can be problems.

You can have legitimate grounds for complaint if you find yourself in a situation where you are not paid the correct amount or as expected.

Perhaps the most highlighted example is in employers failing to pay employees the National Minimum Wage (NMW) or the National Living Wage (NLW) [2 cited 5.12.22]. This is the lowest amount an employer can legally pay you.

It is against the law for an employer to pay less than the NMW or NLW.

Despite this employers, including some very well-known names,  continue to break the law and underpay workers, and are included in a list of employers named and shamed [3 cited 5.12.22]

The duty to pay wages is implied into every contract of employment.

It will provide details that include how much you will be paid, the rate you will be paid at and when you will be paid.

The contract is a legally binding agreement between you and your employer. Both parties are expected to adhere to the terms of it.

Here we pose seven wage-related questions and answers about common problems you could easily encounter at work.

 1: My employer has not paid me, is this legal?

It is generally against the law for your employer not to pay you unless you agreed to it in advance.

Previous research from Middlesex University found workers are missing out on £1.2 billion in unpaid wages and £1.5 billion in unpaid holiday pay [4 cited 5.12.22].

If you do find yourself in this unfortunate position, the first thing to do is to raise it informally with your employer. It is an approach that can work and often lead to a hassle free resolution.

If an informal approach does not work, you can raise the matter formally through your employer’s grievance procedure.

If that proves unsuccessful, then you can issue a claim in the employment tribunal to seek an order from a judge for the payment to be made to you.

It is advisable to seek expert advice for help with any concern about unpaid wages.

 2: My employer has taken money from my wages, is this fair?

In some circumstances it can be. If you are paid less than you were expecting, then it is always a good idea to talk to your employer first to find out why.

It gives them a chance to explain what has happened and an opportunity to correct any genuine mistakes.

There could be a legitimate explanation for it, as there are certain circumstances in which an employer can make deductions from your wages [5 cited 5.12.22]

If you are paid less than you are entitled to, it can be unlawful if it is not required or authorised by legislation; it was not authorised in your contract of employment; or you did not consent in writing before it was taken.

Your employer can only make a deduction from your pay if:

  • Your contract specifically allows the deduction.
  • It was agreed in writing beforehand.
  • They overpaid you by mistake.
  • It’s required by law, for example Income Tax or a court order.
  • You missed work because you were on strike or taking industrial action

You should be told in advance if a deduction is to be taken from your pay.

 3: I am ill and unable to go to work, am I entitled to full pay?

It depends. If you are unwell and unable to work, you should still get paid but the amount can vary.

If your employer has its own sick pay scheme, it will provide details of what you will be paid and for how long e.g. your full wages for six months and then half pay. Check your employer’s sick pay policy.

If your employer does not have a sick pay scheme, you can get £99.35 per week Statutory Sick Pay [6 cited 5.12.22]

It is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks if you are classed as an employee, earn an average of at least £123 per week and have been ill for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days).

 4: Should I be paid more if I work overtime?

It depends on your contract of employment, so make sure that you check it.

If you are entitled to overtime pay it will usually be stipulated in your contract, along with the rate you will be paid at.

Your normal hours of work are fixed by your contract of employment. If you work beyond those hours, your employer does not have to pay you.

But your average pay for the total hours you work must not fall below the National Minimum Wage.

Part-time workers will usually only get paid overtime if at least one of the following applies [7 cited 5.12.22]

  • You work more than the normal working hours of full-time staff and full-time staff would get extra pay for working these hours
  • You work at unsocial times (for example, late at night) and full-time staff would get more pay

Your contract will say if your right to paid overtime is different.

 5: Can my employer withhold my wages if I take annual leave?

No, paid annual leave is a legal right that an employer must provide.

You should book in advance and agree any period of annual leave with your employer.

Almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday a year (known as statutory leave entitlement or annual leave).

This includes: agency workers, workers with irregular hours and workers on zero-hours contracts

An employer can include bank holidays as part of statutory annual leave.

 6: I am leaving my job, but will I get paid during my notice period?

Yes.  You are entitled to normal pay during your notice period, even if you are off sick (the amount will depend on if your employer has a sick pay scheme) or on annual leave.

You must get your full normal pay for any time you work during your notice period.

If your pay is different each week, then your employer can use your average weekly pay – which can include overtime, bonuses and commission - to work out your notice pay.

 7: I have a complaint about my wages, what should I do?

Raise it informally with your employer in the first instance. Discuss it with human resources or the payroll department.

If doing so does not resolve the issue, and you need more help then contact our Employee Support Centre, speak to a trade union if you are a member or raise a grievance.

If this does not address the matter to your satisfaction contact ACAS Early Conciliation before taking your case to an employment tribunal [8 cited  5.12.22]


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